Last week saw Sony unveil PlayStation 4 to the world. Well, sort of.
There was talk of visions, a nod to the cloud via Gaikai, and a host of games showcased, but the console itself including the design, the price, and the more detailed elements of how it will function was kept under wraps.
So, we asked the Mavens:
Is PlayStation 4 the product of a Sony reacting well to the changing nature of the games industry around it, or is it an example of a company sticking all too rigidly to the model its perfected over the last two decades?
The PlayStation 4 design philosophy is heavily inspired by the modern smartphone and tablet gaming experience. Need proof?
Sony handily provided it itself in a visual way:
The social features are great and, when put together, will make gaming on PS4 a lot more social. On a personal note I could not have asked for more validation to what we do with Everyplay replay sharing than Sony adding a sharing button to their controller and enabling video sharing.
By the time the PS4 ships, you'll have all the features they announced available through Everyplay for mobile games. And more. As a sidenote, how long will it be before Microsoft buys Twitch.tv and gets on replay sharing and live streaming?
We don't really know enough about the PS4 business model to judge it yet. Will there be an open, semi-open, or closed store? How easy will it be to update and iterate?
Aside from a few words about free to play, we don't know what business models will be supported. I doubt it'll be a open system á la Android or iOS, but I'm hopeful we'll see something closer to Steam in terms of openness.
In the end, Sony may manage lifetime of 100 million PS4s if they it is very lucky, but there will be a billion tablets out there as tablets replace PCs and not to mention a couple billion smartphones.
I believe that the worldwide smartphone and tablet gaming revenue (sales, IAP, ads) will eclipse the console software revenue (retail, digital, IAP, ads) within 3-5 years and I'm not seeing anything here to change my mind about that.
I think Sony is trying its best to steer a compromise product into a market where it knows it needs to stay relevant over a 3-5 year product cycle without a crystal ball to tell it exactly what will change in that time.
Its thrown in cloud gaming, second screen apps, motion controls, mobile connectivity and whatever else it has laying around the R&D labs.
But let's be realistic; yesterday's 'announcement' was pretty much pure hot air. We got no pictures, no release date, no price, so specs, no launch games - no facts at all.
This was a PR-driven move to spike whatever Microsoft is lining up for E3, and to ensure that Sony is seen as leading the charge into the next generation. I don't think we can really make proper judgements about the PS4 until we know more about it.
Eros Resmini, entrepreneur in residence, YouWeb
I think many in the space are concurrently wondering, hoping, and fearing after the PS4 'announcement'.
They're wondering what the PS4 actually is, hoping that consoles don't die too quickly, and fearing that production budgets just increased overnight.
Sony appears to be simultaneously doing what it knows best while hedging it's best with a cloud gaming play. This strategy allows it to play in the past and the future at the same time, by not announcing too many details they can wait and see before making any concrete public moves.
Under Sandy’s leadership, YoYo Games has built an active GameMaker community 250,000-members strong while building partnerships with Amazon, Intel, Microsoft, and Valve that have helped it achieve 200 percent YOY growth in 2012.
Sandy’s previous experience includes a 17-year stint at Microsoft.
First the bad news: Sony has announced that the PS4 is...a PC.
Doesn't matter what anyone calls it, it's a PC. Sony can muck the BIOS around a bit, mess with the motherboard design, and add on oddball OS but it has a hard disc, memory, an off the shelf graphics chip and on off the shelf processor, ethernet, Bluetooth, Blu-ray blah blah blah it's a PC.
And I assume Sony's designed a box to put it all in that is SOOOO exciting they couldn't show anyone. (Hate to spoil the party, but it's made of plastic and has a PS4 logo on it).
Most of us call this a PC. Some call it a Mac that's probably an even better analogy, given this is basically EXACTLY what Apple do, before then charging us £2,000 for the experience.
More bad news. The controller looks like it was designed by the same team that designed the Nvidia Shield.
The in-between news is that this is roughly the same spec as Valve's Steam Box - otherwise known as Xi3 X7a.
The Sony parts list has 8GB of memory and is more "state f the art", but you have to assume that the quad core "Jaguar" and next-gen AMD Radeon will also be available to Valve/X3i at similar prices and at roughly the same time (the component world has no wiggle room for giving anyone a great deal, it's simply too competitive), assuming they make any real difference to games performance in the first place.
The (probably) good news is Sony have figured out how to retail this amazing hardware collection at less than £400 either that, or it will be the most expensive console in recent history. This is half the price of the Xi3 X7A.
With retail gross margins at roughly 20 percent on console hardware (includes VAT in the margin calculation these days), and UK VAT at 20 percent, this means Sony have to get its landed cost of a PS4 down to about £275 if it intends to break even.
This will make for the world's most awesome and most cost effective PC. Give it a month and someone will have it running Windows 8 and Ubuntu.
Really really bad news: PS4 can't really retail for £400 without losing Sony a TON of money. Money it doesn't have. (If you haven't noticed their stock is trading at or near junk status in Japan).
- Sony has a natty subscription model planned (hardware, music, movie, games) that allows it to make money.
- Sony's going out of business/getting sold before this ever gets launched.
- Sony's going out of business/getting sold soon after the launch.
- Sony's kidding, and PS4 and Xbox 720 and SteamBox are just the same thing, and they'll all be built by Dell, Lenovo and HP.
- It will cost £599 or more. (If Sony gets bought by Apple, then it'll cost £1,999)
I suggest a reader poll on this one. I personally would vote for option number 1 for sentimental reasons, but I think 3 and 5 are much more likely.
I can't agree with Sandy's assessment. The PS4 is nothing like a current PC, but it is quite possibly going to influence PC architecture in the future.
The hardware itself looks good: an x86 device with 8GB of GDDR5 memory accessible both by the GPU and the CPU is unlike any PC hardware that's out there - we're talking about memory bandwidth of 5-10X that of a regular PC.
And since (supposedly) the GPU and CPU share the same memory with no PCIe bus in between to slow things down, it should be possible, for example, to run massive physics simulations in the game that affect the actual gameplay in a way that would be nigh-impossible to accomplish on a regular PC.
So I dare say I'm curious to see what the hardware is capable of, it seems Sony has finally made a device that gives developers a running start, and also makes multi-platform releases less troublesome.
However, even if the device itself is wonderful to develop for, I have concerns about Sony's vision for social gaming. If all those features that were presented are separate feature requirements for PS4 games, the benefit of easy hardware is quickly offset by a quagmire of social & network features to implement, test, and pass through expensive QA.
On the service side, personally I'm waiting to see how Sony will handle access to your previously purchased content.
The possibilities were already mentioned during the Gaikai-segment of the presentation, but a lot remains to be seen.
As a consumer I've gotten used to my digital content remaining accessible through hardware generations (iOS does it, Android does it, Steam does it ) and purchasing the same games over and over for nostalgia's sake, even if they are HD remakes, has lost its appeal.
Also I'm hoping Sony takes a closer look at the digital purchase flows on the competing platforms, it's a bit silly to have to go through separate checkout screens when you're downloading free content.
The whole streaming strategy needs more details before we should speculate on its outlook.
I think consoles are between a rock and a hard place. They pretty much have to continue with more of the same.
I dont know how they will be able to radically change the structure of their hardware cycle because of the amount of investment required for large AAA games. Even though Im sceptical about Gaikai, I think Sony is trying to use it in a non-critical way in the next generation in order to see how well it does.
If it does well, Gaikai might be a way to not have to refresh hardware in the future.
For most of the conference though, I felt like it was a lot of hot air. Everything was non-committal. Showing the same old Square-Enix and Watch Dogs demos was really lame. They made a big deal out of vita remote play, but that was something that was supposed to happen with the PS3.
In fact, there is no technical reason why it cant happen on the PS3 (hackers already have it working for most games). Including Vita remote play it in suggests Sony was really desperate to make the machine look cool.
Many of these capability announcements made me think back to when they announced PlayStation Home. It was a wiz bang demo they could show to get people excited but was pretty much vaporware until 3 years after the release.
The close up render of the old guy by the Heavy Rain guys looked cool, but that was a face against a black background. Its a heavily contained tech demo that will probably not make it into a real game.
The controller was a disappointment - I really struggle to think of a use for that touch pad. Its in an area that is hard to reach. Without a display, you are basically forced to use it like a track pad for a laptop. I just dont know if I want to have a mouse pointer on my game machine.
I guess you could use it to turn pages, or maybe draw signs for a magic game, but the placement makes it seem like you will have to juggle the controller to use it.
Not sure what I think of the share button. Seems like they are really trying hard to embrace the social. I just dont know if people will be using that button enough to warrant its placement on the controller. Its kind of like buying a multimedia keyboard that has a bunch of buttons you will never use.
Personally, I think they should replace it with a troll button. The PS4 would instantly record your 10 most shouted obscenities during Call of Duty and when you hit the troll button it blasts a random one without you actually having to say anything.
That said, I will probably get a PS4 and love it.
When it comes to consoles, content is actually notking, which is not to say that content does not hold a high place in the king's court. Content is prince, and, when it comes to consoles, capability is king.
Sony was able to capture the market away from stalwarts Nintendo and Sega in the mid-nineties by being the first into the mind of the consumer with 3D graphics capabilities in the form of the original PlayStation, and Sony held that lead through Microsoft Xbox and Sega Dreamcast with the PlayStation 2 because neither the Xbox nor the Dreamcast brought anything new to the table, other than a slightly upgraded graphical experience.
(Yes, both the Sega Dreamcast - the world's first online console - and the Microsoft Xbox had online capabilities, but those capabilities were not out-of-the-box cores of those console experiences.)
Going by both install base and tie-ratio, the Microsoft Xbox 360 unseats Sony from the console throne by being the first into the mind of the consumers with out-of-the-box online capabilities.
Actually, Microsoft should be applauded again for how amazingly forward-thinking and smooth the Xbox Live out-of-the-box experience was: The decision to put online capabilities at the core of the Xbox 360 experience has kept Microsoft on top of hardcore gaming for nearly a decade.
But, wait, here comes the PlayStation 4! But, wait, what capabilities does the PlayStation 4 come with?
Um...well there's a touchpad on the controller and you can share stuff and...try games out...well...um...better graphics.
There are no capabilities there to pry Microsoft out of the minds of console gamers. So, the question becomes, "What capabilities would pry Microsoft out of the minds of console gamers?" Free-to-play games dictated by policy would be a good start, though, I suspect we will see at least some free-to-play games on Microsoft's next console.
After graphics, after online, comes place-shifting: The capability to take any experience with you anywhere. And, place-shifting is really less about the consoles than it is about displays.
There needs to be developed some universally standard and everywhere employed mechanism by which video, audio output and human input can fly through the air between all phones and all tablets, all speakers and all televisions.
If and when capabilities do stagnate, content truly does become king.
Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.
I was sceptical before the presentation and I remain so after.
Don't get me wrong - I am still a fanboy at heart and want one like the other fanboys...but I'm part of that niche that will buy 'almost' every platform.
There is no doubt that for a period of time (at least the first two years) this device will amaze us with its graphical prowess as long as you have the best TV and audio set up.
But to deliver on that promise the triple-A developers still face enormous budget projects and the associated risk in a hit or miss environment.
That model is in decline and, although the halo effect of a new generation of devices will artificially boost this for a time, it will continue to decline. And of course the move to an X86 based platform will eliminate a lot of pain.
The real question is how will this device enable real disruption and deliver content as a service.
There are some positive signs, the plans to connect to other devices, the presence of Gaikai behind the scenes all open up interesting possibilities.
Additionally, there are the social features and video capture process; which as Jussi said earlier, just reinforces our Everyplay strategy to turn gameplay into sharable user-generated videos on mobile.
The trouble is that Sony has a habit of having the right idea, but not quite delivering on the promise. Look at EyeToy - this introduced the first physical interaction for console, which I assume influenced Wii-mote and Kinect...but never really succeeded on PS3.
Look at the Move controller - its pretty good to use (although comical to look at), but due to internal battles can't replace the functions of dual-shock. Look at PlayStation Home, an amazing tool to enable indie developers and freemium games that's never had the platform integration or investment needed to reach its potential.
Even the PS Vita offers the potential for amazing gameplay - I adore Frobisher Says - but it fails to meet a broad enough range consumer needs to be successful. I could go on.
The missing piece for me is this. Do we need another console with a content 'walled garden'? Or is it time to deliver experiences from cloud to the device I want to use now?
Sony has all the pieces: smart TV, PC's, tablets, mobiles, etc. Sony has back-end cloud technology including Gaikai, an amazing media heritage and perhaps the most loved brand in games.
Why pour all this into the bottleneck of a console? Why not deliver on the promise of the best experience on the best devices (plural). By all means have a PS4, but I believe it has to evolve into a service to survive.
Activision should launch a dedicated Modern Warfare/Call of Duty console with a bundled subscription to all the games in the franchise, and EA should do the same for FIFA, and everyone else can just save money by playing on a PC or mobile.
Who wants innovation? Judging by the emergence of these two juggernaut franchises, not the majority of console gamers.
They want annual updates, amazing graphics and licensed content, and only the biggest guys now have the pockets to deliver these on console as the costs are so high.
Just wanted to add this quote from Shuhei Yoshida, head of Sonys Worldwide Studios:
"Having a touchpad or touch input we really wanted to do because, these days, all these devices have touch control."
This is what's wrong with Sony. It is literally shoving features into the PS4 just because it sees it in other devices.
The problem is that Sony implements those features in a way that doesn't make sense. Nintendo and Apple are the only companies that are able to try new things and have them actually work well.
Ooh, I dunno. 3D for Nintendo and Ping for Apple beg to differ.
I actually love the 3d in Fire Emblem.
I have no defense for Ping. I forgot that happened.
I think for me, it's what you leave out sometimes that's more important.
If there's a touchpad on the new Xbox's control pad, I'll kiss every one of you.